RAB Fantasy Baseball League (Part Six)

Alrighty, here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The settings are exactly the same as before, so go to Yahoo and sign up using the League ID and password found here. The settings are exactly the same as the other leagues, and the maximum moves per week is set at eight, even though the screen cap of the settings say otherwise. Hopefully this takes care of everyone, six leagues is pretty insane.

Marte leaves game after getting hit by comebacker

Update (4:37pm): Marte’s fine, just a bruise. He was working out after the game. Phew.

2:31pm: Via Sweeny Murti, Damaso Marte left today’s game after taking a Ryan Howard line drive to the back. The Yanks’ primary lefty reliever allowed two hits and a homer to the first three batters he faced before Howard ended his day. It was Marte’s first action of the spring, and if he misses any time, it’s unlikely he’ll to be ready for Opening Day. Boone Logan‘s chances of making the team just went up big time.

2010 Draft: Mid-to-late round arms

Ever since taking over as scouting director in 2005, Damon Oppenheimer has provided the Yankees with a steady stream of low cost pitching talent to plug holes in the bullpen and use as trade bait. Most of those arms have been acquired in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, making those selections that much more rewarding. In 2006 he landed Mark Melancon (9th round), Dan McCutchen (13th), and David Robertson (17th), then in 2008 he drafted D.J. Mitchell (10th) and David Phelps (14th), and last year it was Sean Black (7th), Gavin Brooks (9th), and Graham Stoneburner (14th).

The general idea was to take polished college starters with good enough stuff, and hope pitching guru Nardi Contreras can take them to the next level. As more and more teams are becoming aggressive in the draft, it’s getting harder and harder to find valuable pieces after the 3rd or 4th or 5th round. Oppenheimer’s approach has yielded quality relievers and decent trade pieces, which is exactly what a big money club like the Yankees need.

Surely the Yankees will deploy the same strategy this June, using those usually fruitless middle rounds to replenish the pipeline with more useful arms that should climb the ladder quickly. Here’s a few such players the Yankees could target…

Bryan Harper, LHP, College of Southern Nevada
Projected top pick Bryce Harper isn’t the only baseball prospect in his family, his older brother Bryan is a pretty good player himself. After posting a 6.68 ERA with a 15-22 K/BB ratio in 32.1 IP as a freshman at Cal State Northridge, Harper transferred to CSN to help his brother transition to college ball when he should have been a junior in high school. He’s emerged as the Coyotes best starter, carving up the wood bat league to the tune of a 2.39 ERA with a 41-17 K/BB ratio in 26.1 IP.

A physical specimen like his brother, the elder Harper is projectable at 6-foot-5 and just 190 lbs. Obviously he needs to work on his command and control, but the raw stuff is there. His fastball generally sits 89-91 – less impressive than his brother’s heat, actually – and his second pitch is a big breaking curve that is a put-away pitch some days and a show-me offering on others. A changeup has been in the works as well. Harper needs to become more consistent with all of his pitches, and that will come with experience and pro instruction.

Draft eligible because of the transfer to a junior college, Harper is likely an early double-digit round selection. Teams with the top overall pick usually select that player’s bother if he’s draft eligible as a bit of a favor and also to provide a certain level of comfort. Most recently, the Rays drafted Jeremy Beckham in the 17th round after taking his younger brother Tim first overall in 2008. If the team that takes Bryce doesn’t draft Bryan later on, he’ll be a very tough sign and will likely end up following through on his commitment to South Carolina.

Photo Credit: Screen cap’d from here

[Read more…]

2010 Season Preview: Burnett and Sabathia could be even better in ’10

When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett a year ago, they believed they were getting, at best, a pair of aces or, at worst, a No. 1 and a No. 2. In year one they got the latter. Sabathia pitched as well as anyone could have expected, tossing 230 innings at a 3.37 ERA, fourth lowest in the AL. Burnett might not have been a second ace, but he pitched capably behind Sabathia, posting the fourth best strikeout rate in the AL. Both could make improvements and perform even better in 2010.


Photo credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese

There are concerns that career highs in innings pitched could adversely affect Burnett and Sabathia. Neither set career highs during the regular season. In fact, both had set that mark in 2008, when Sabathia pitched 253 innings and Burnett pitched 221.1. In 2009 the Yankees had leeway later in the season to give them a rest, and it led to Burnett pitching 14 fewer innings, while Sabathia, not pitching every fourth day in a tight pennant race, managed 23 fewer innings. The playoffs, of course, pushed them both above their career highs. Sabathia threw 36.1 innings in the playoffs for a total of 266.1, 9.2 innings over his career high. Burnett threw 27.1 playoff innings for a total of 234.1, 13 more than his career high.

Put this way, it doesn’t appear either pitcher worked much harder than in 2009. In fact, they might have put less stress on their arms. Sabathia’s 2008 season started on March 31 and ended on October 2, 186 days. That works out to 6.9 innings every five days. In 2009 he started on April 6 and ended on November 1, 210 days. That works out to just about 6 1/3 innings every five days. Burnett’s 2008 season started on April 2 and ended on September 24, 176 days, or just under 6 1/3 innings every five days. In 2009 he started on April 9 and ended on November 2, 208 days, or just under 5 2/3 innings every five days. Both of their workloads, spread over time, were lower in 2009 than in 2008.


Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The sheer number of innings each pitched still causes concern, of course, and the Yankees have taken steps to mitigate that this spring. They’ve exercised caution with all three of their postseason workhorses, and will likely use the sparse April schedule to spread out their early starts. The idea, of course, is to have them pitching like normal as the season moves on, rather than like a pair of pitchers fatigued by the added workload of a postseason run. If this works out as planned, both Sabathia and Burnett could make improvements that could help them realize the Yankees’ goal of having a pair of aces atop the rotation.

Burnett knows that he walked way too many batters in 2009, and he has made it his goal to improve that rate in 2010. That plays into his other goal of pitching deeper into games. What could further help him in that second goal is inducing ground balls at his career rate. In 2009 Burnett induced a career low 42.8 percent ground balls. His career rate is 49.5 percent. More ground balls typically means a higher BABIP, since ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls. Burnett could mitigate this increase by improving his walk-rate. That works out better than a wash, since ground balls can also lead to double plays, which can erase some of those walked batters.

Another area where Burnett could see a return to his career marks is his performance against right-handed hitters. He struck out just 7.09 righties per nine innings, well below his marks from previous seasons. He was as high as 8.91 per nine in 2008. His walk rate against righties also shot up to 4.34 per nine, more than a full walk per nine more than 2008, and his .284 batting average against represents the worst of his career. Perhaps adding a changeup to his arsenal will help in this regard. Even if he doesn’t, a simple return to his career norms would represent a big improvement over 2009.

Like Burnett, Sabathia also saw his groundballs dip. While he had hovered around 45 percent over the previous three seasons, he dropped to about 43 percent in 2009. That’s not a huge change, but it hurts when combined with his increased fly ball rate, 37.3 percent. That’s not much above his pre-2008 norm, though, and it’s doubtful he’d get that number as low as the 31.7 mark he posted in 2008. Still, a few more groundballs can never hurt. Sabathia’s walks were also up a bit, 2.62 per nine, but not significantly so. It led to his four-year high in FIP, but even then he was at 3.39.

In terms of the small stuff, Sabathia saw a few changes in 2009. His strikeout rate dipped and his walk rate spiked with men on base. His strikeout rate with men on base, 6.70 per nine, looks a bit worse because of his outstanding 8.12 mark in 2008, though it still sits a bit below the ~7.00 rate he posted in 2006 and 2007. His walk rate, 3.30 per nine with men on base, is over his career norms and way over his totals over the previous three years. In his Cy Young season, 2007, he walked just 1.08 per nine with men on base. He also saw a dip in his K/9 against lefties, to 9.94. He had been around 12 per nine from 2006 through 2008.

Yet even as they both slipped in some areas, both Sabathia and Burnett performed to expectations in 2009. If they improve on any of those aspects in 2010, they could easily exceed expectations. Chances are the projection systems won’t see it that way, but we’ll check them anyway.

Sabathia:

Click for larger

So, in other words, when we average out the forecasts we get a near replica of CC’s 2009 season.

Burnett:

Click for larger

Sabathia and Burnett were a big part of Brian Cashman‘s plan to bring the Yankees back to the World Series, and obviously that worked out pretty well. They both performed well during their debut seasons in the Bronx, and could see improvement in their second. There is certainly some concern from their having exceeding previous innings highs, but not only did they spread those innings over more time, but they also only modestly increased over their 2008 marks. With those two heading the rotation, the Yankees finally have that dominant feel. Not only can they mash, but they can win the 2-1 games, too.

The sixth – and hopefully final – RAB Fantasy Baseball League

We’ve got one more league going, so in case you missed out on the first five, here’s (yet another) chance to get in on the action. This is just an early warning post, the sign up info will posted at 3pm ET today. Don’t miss it, so set your alarm or mark your calendar or do whatever else you need to do.

The “leader” of the fifth starter competition

Just a week ago, Sergio Mitre apparently led the fifth starter competition. But then Al Aceves pitched well, so he was the story. Last night Phil Hughes pitched well, so Wednesday’s stories revolve around how he has stepped up in the fifth starter competition. That, and how this is Joba’s last chance — ever, according to many scribes — to audition for the rotation. The way we’ve seen this story portrayed makes the Yankees’ braintrust seem rather fickle.

I’m not really buying any of it. Maybe the team had a fifth starter picked out before they even came to camp. Maybe they’ve already made a decision based on what they’ve seen. I doubt, however, that they’re anxiously awaiting the results of exhibition games in order to determine the winner. These games are played under completely different circumstances than normal games, and I’m not sure the Yankees can make their decision based on those results.

That isn’t to say that the games are meaningless. The staff can observe the pitchers and see if they’re doing the right things — mixing pitches, throwing strikes, challenging hitters, etc. The results, though, shouldn’t much matter. As we’ve been saying all spring, there’s just too much going on.

Take Phil Hughes’s appearance last night for example. The results show that he pitched very well: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 59 pitches. Yet he faced mostly substitutes. Not only substitutes, but substitutes from the NL’s worst offense. Can the Yankees really trust the results in this case? Of course not. But they can observe other aspects of Hughes during the start and make determinations. That, I think, is what this competition is based on — if it’s really a competition at all.

Today Joba starts against Philadelphia, the NL’s best offense. If he goes his four innings, but allows five hits, two runs, and walks one, will that really be judged as worse than Hughes’s outing? The discrepancy in talent there is immense, the reserves on a terrible offense against the starters on the best offense. In fact, if Joba pitches well we should all be encouraged, since he did it against tougher competition.

This is all a rant to say that these stories in the newspaper don’t necessarily reflect the actual decision-making process. They’re stories based on the results of the game and conversations with staff. Maybe they give us a little insight into the team’s thought process, but maybe they don’t. Again, maybe the team is keeping its true intentions under wraps. We don’t know. What we do know, though, is that trusting the straight results of these spring training appearances won’t help us better guess the competition. There are just too many variables involved.

Can Mitre succeed in the bullpen?

Sergio Mitre doesn’t stand much of a chance to break camp as the Yankees’ fifth starter. After pitching well in his first few outings he came back to earth in his latest, quelling the story he had created a few weeks ago. He is once again an afterthought, a pitcher not totally taken seriously as a starting candidate for the Yankees. But, since he’s out of options, chances are he’ll head to Boston as a member of the bullpen.

Over the winter I wondered whether Kei Igawa would profile as a reliever. The idea came from The Hardball Times’s Jeff Sackmann, who identified key traits of quality relievers. These include pitching well the first time through the order (and also in the first inning of work), pitching well out of the stretch, and, less important for a righty like Mitre, strong platoon splits. If Mitre fares well in these aspects, perhaps he can survive as a short reliever. Otherwise, it’s difficult to determine his value to the team.

Mitre has a 5.56 career ERA, spanning 362.1 innings, so he’s already a prime candidate for bullpen conversion. As we often note, if you look through major league bullpens you’ll see a bevy of failed starters. That covers 90 games, 61 of which were starts. His relief numbers are actually worse than his starting numbers, a 6.44 ERA, though we can’t project much from a 36.1 inning sample. Still, perhaps there’s something in the numbers that provide an indicator.

Like most pitchers, Mitre is more effective when facing a batter for the first time. Opponents hit .260/.321/.393 off him initially, but as expected they get a bit better the second time, to the tune of .311/.367/.455. The second line is pretty horrible, and the first line doesn’t really stand out. In his 2007 season, however, Mitre did show better numbers the first time through the order. His OPS against the second and third time through were right around his career averages, but the first time through opponents hit .240/.286/.299. Unfortunately, we’re again dealing with a small sample, just 242 PA. To demonstrate what can happen in small samples, opponents hit .344/.373/.510 against Mitre the first time through in 2009, while they managed just .235/.297/.469 the second time through.

On pitches one through 25 for his career, opponents have hit .274/.337/.411 off Mitre, still not an eye-opening number. Again, he did a bit better in 2007, .248/.300/.309, but in that similarly short sample. In other words, over the only meaningful sample Mitre provides, his career numbers, he hasn’t fared too well in short bursts. Perhaps he’d change his style when relegated to the pen full-time, but that’s not something a team like the Yankees can bank on.

Worse yet, Mitre does not react well to having men on base. Pitching out of the stretch during his career he has allowed opponents to hit .323/.383/.472 over 759 PA. That is not a pitcher I want in with men in scoring position. His only saving grace in that regard is that he keeps the ball on the ground. Then again, that’s not a trait particular to having men on. He generally keeps the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time, which is the entire reason he continues to get a chance. It’s tough to ignore someone with that type of ground ball rate.

I do think that Mitre is better than he showed last season. Then he had just finished rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and surely wasn’t at his strongest. He also didn’t keep the ball on the ground quite to the rate he had earlier in his career. Given the chance I think he could be a decent fill-in starter. He pitched well in 2007 before getting hurt, and if he can rediscover that form he might provide value. I do not think, however, that it will be for the Yankees.

As I mentioned last night, the Yankees have one too many pitchers. Their choices involve optioning a good young pitcher, trading one, or designating one for assignment. The first doesn’t make much sense — unless the Yankees want to keep one pitcher stretched out at AAA (that could even be Aceves, I suppose). The second is an option for sure, but not one a team can rely on. That leaves the third. I think, though, that the Yankees would trade Mitre for peanuts before they released him. Again, he can fill a back of the rotation spot for a team in need. But given his track record, and given the construction of the Yanks roster, I don’t think it will be for them. There are just too many pitchers better than him who deserve the spot more.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP